Move to allow SC benefits for Dalit converts flawed: Centre

The Ranganath Misra Commission was written within the ‘four walls of a room’ and took a myopic view of the social milieu, Centre says in the Supreme Court; the findings have not been accepted by the government, Solicitor-General tells court

December 07, 2022 04:55 pm | Updated 11:54 pm IST - NEW DELHI

The Centre in the Supreme Court on December 7 declared that the 2007 report of the Justice Ranganath Misra Commission for Religious and Linguistic Minorities, which recommended that Dalits who converted to Islam and Christianity to escape caste oppression in the Hindu religion should be permitted to avail of Scheduled Caste (SC) reservation benefits in government jobs and educational institutions, was “flawed” and composed within the “four walls of a room”.

“It was written within the four walls of a room. There was no field study done… The Commission (Misra) took a myopic view of the social milieu in India. The findings of the Ranganath Misra Commission have not been accepted by the government,” Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, for the government, submitted before a three-judge Bench led by Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul.

Mr. Mehta said a new Commission chaired by former Chief Justice of India K.G. Balakrishnan was constituted recently under the Commission of Inquiry Act, 1952 to re-examine the question whether SC status ought to be granted to “new persons” who had converted to religions other than Hinduism, Buddhism and Sikhism.

Only persons professing these three religions are deemed to belong to the SC community. The inclusion of a group in the SC list under Clause 3 of the Constitution (Scheduled Castes) Order, 1950 would be required to show “extreme social, educational and economic backwardness arising out of traditional practice of untouchability”.

The government argued that Dalits who had converted to Christianity or Islam to overcome caste oppression cannot now return to claim reservation benefits enjoyed by those who chose to stay back in the Hindu religious system. Besides, the government said, Christianity is an egalitarian religion which did not adhere to any caste system. A person who claims to be a Dalit convert cannot profess Christianity and claim reservation benefits granted to the SC community.

“One of the reasons for which people from Scheduled Castes have been converting to religions like Islam and Christianity is so that they can come out of the oppressive system of untouchability which is not prevalent at all in Christianity and Islam. Therefore, once they have come out and ameliorated their social status by converting themselves to Christianity or Islam they cannot claim to be backward since backwardness based on untouchability is only prevalent in the Hindu society or its branches and not in any other religion,” the government has argued in an affidavit.

The Centre has said that SC converts to Christianity cannot be compared with Sikh and Buddhist converts. Scheduled Caste members had converted to Buddhism at the call of B.R. Ambedkar in 1956 on account of “some innate socio-political imperatives”. Their “original castes” could be clearly determined.

“This cannot be said in respect of Christians and Muslims who might have converted on account of other factors, since the process of such conversions had taken place over the centuries,” the affidavit had said.

On Wednesday, Mr. Mehta said the court may wait till the Justice Balakrishnan Commission came up with its recommendations. The time given to the Commission is two years.

Explained | The criterion for SC status

The Bench said it would examine the question whether the court should wait for the Balakrishnan Commission report or go ahead and hear a series of petitions seeking SC quota benefits for Dalit converts to other religions, primarily Christianity. The petitioners sought the court to declare Clause 3 of the 1950 Order to be declared unconstitutional and void as it denied benefits to SC converts to Christianity in respect of quota in jobs, political reservations under various laws and notifications in the country.

The court listed the case for hearing in January next year.

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